ambient music

REVIEW: Michael Hunter – River (1995)

MICHAEL HUNTER – River (1995 Racket Records, 2013 reissue)

99% of people who stumble upon this review won’t know who Michael Hunter is, and that’s fine.  He’s one of Marillion’s crew.  He’s Mark Kelly’s keyboard tech, and he’s a producer in the studio as well.  This album came to be when Marillion were looking for some ambient music to open their Brave tour. The wanted to set the mood right for that dark concept album, played in its entirety.  If you own one of the live albums from that tour, (though not Made Again disc 2), then chances are you’ve heard a little bit of River.

According to the liner notes by Marillion’s Steve Hogarth, the album was composed and performed, not merely programmed!  The bits of music used are lifted from Marillion’s Brave, and other records, and re-composed into a 42 minute album.  There are no songs, but the music is divided into seven numbered tracks (I – VII).  There’s no point discussing them individually.  Sometimes you can’t even tell when one section has ended, and another has begun.  Sure, there are changes in mood and texture, but River remains a largely monolithic block of music.  It’s watery sounding, and very atmospheric.

RIVER ORIGINALI had River going when I was playing a computer game (called Lux, which is the same as Risk, but with infinite maps to conquer).  River felt appropriate to the video game setting, in fact it reminded me of some of the music in the old Rama video game from the 90’s.  Unfortunately the CD is mixed quietly by today’s standards so I had to crank it a bit to get the listening balance right.

Bits and pieces are familiar.  If you know Brave, then you have heard some of these keyboard and guitar sounds before.  It doesn’t feel like “Brave remixed” any way, however.  Somehow Michael Hunter used those sounds to actually compose an original piece of music that stands as its own work.

Fans started requesting that the Brave live intro music be made available on a CD, so Marillion released the Michael Hunter album on their own label Racket Records and made it available to order in 1995.  That sold out, and they re-released it as a Front Row Club optional release (FRC-006).  That meant that members of Marillion’s Front Row Club subscription service could get the album, but it wouldn’t be sent to them automatically.  They had to “opt in” to get it, since it wasn’t a “new release” but a reissue.  Some members already had it.  I did not, but for whatever reason I didn’t opt in to get it.  I considered it outside of the Marillion discography, and in many respects it is.  In 2013 it was reissued once more (each time with slightly altered cover art), and I finally decided to snag it as part of my annual Marillion website order.

I’m glad I did.  While I wouldn’t listen to this frequently, since I don’t often crave long ambient pieces, it definitely will come in handy.

3.5/5 stars

FRONT ROW RIVER

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Part 239: Music for Your Mental Health

MENTAL

RECORD STORE TALES Part 239:
Music for Your Mental Health

Music can be absolutely vital to the human psyche.  I don’t know why it is, but the auditory sensation of vibrating air molecules that we call sound has an undeniable effect once modulated into music.  Some people find themselves drawn to the music, some the singing, others just the words.  Nobody experiences music exactly the same way, but for many of us, it has the ability to lift our spirits high.

I had a customer, who had been coming in for many years, who was diagnosed with a fairly common mental disorder.  He didn’t find it a  pleasant disorder to deal with.  The young man who I’ll call Billy had made a suicide attempt.  I didn’t see him for a while.  When I did see him come back, he had changed his appearance.  Gone was the long hair and beard.  What did not disappear was his love of music, which seemed to manifest itself even stronger after his attempt.

Billy had suddenly rediscovered 80’s new wave music, and with it modern electronica, techno, and trance.  He became extremely passionate.  He was especially fond of any and all New Order.  These artists in turn introduced him to the relaxing sounds of New Age music.  I couldn’t say it for certain, but if I had to make an observation, I would conjecture that the music gave him more focus and something to feel good about.

Soon, listening to music wasn’t enough anymore.  Billy wanted to make music.

His family were supportive.  Over the few years that I knew him, his family purchased for him the best computers, the best synthesizers, and encouraged him every step.  He dad acted as his manager.  They would come in periodically, looking for electronic music, and eager to update me on his musical progress.

“The CD is coming along well,” Billy would say.  “It’s going to be very relaxing, very dreamlike, and calming.  It’s great music.  I’m very excited.  My dad is helping me, we’re going to put a CD out.”

And put a CD out he did.   I’m far from the most knowledgeable person about electronic music, but it sounded good to me.  I could tell he put a lot of work into the tracks.  He did it all himself.  His extraordinary story got him some newspaper coverage too.  The best part was, the CD was really good.  I wouldn’t let him just give me a copy, I made a point of buying one.  I had to support my customer!

Music can be such a positive force.  It’s one of the few things I know of that can bring 100,000 people together.  It can change brain chemistry, and it can help us feel all kinds of emotions.  It can make you want to get up and dance, or make love, or play air guitar.  It can make you feel better and draw you in deeper.

Sometimes, I think about what music means to me personally.  I know it helped me survive.  Would Billy would have survived without music?  Would any of us?  There’s no way to know.  I do know that I am glad I got to know Billy.  He taught me that music really can change the world in powerful ways.